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Rerefining African Waste Oil

The rerefined oil sector in Africa is well established, with several base oil rerefiners operating across the continent. These include the 36,000 metric tons per year plant operated by Hitech Oils and Greases in Egypt; the 30,000 t/y Rebex plant in Algeria; Sotolub, which produces 16,000 t/y in Tunisia; and the modest 1,660 t/y Brent Technologies plant in Uganda.

One of the most developed rerefined oil markets in Africa, in terms of collection infrastructure, is South Africa. Its market is estimated to be worth U.S. $34.11 million per year and is staffed by a combined workforce of 1,500 people, Bubele Nyiba, chief executive officer of the Rose Foundation, told LubesnGreases at the ICIS Africa Base Oils and Lubricants Conference in Cape Town. There are three rerefiners in the country: FFS Refiners, which produces 18,000 t/y of an SN150 and a SN1450, as well as third product that the company refers to as a light oil in its Pietermaritzburg plant, as well as the companies Flexilube and Motolube.

Until 1994, the South African government offered a subsidy for the rerefining sector raised from a tax on new finished lubes. After it scrapped the tax, a group of oil and lubricant companies created and funded the Rose Foundation (Recycling Oil Saves the Environment). Since its establishment, it has collected about 1.5 billion liters of used oil, according the foundations website. It has done this through 210 waste oil collectors, of which 145 are registered with the foundation, and 20 collection points nationwide, Nyiba told conference delegates.

But South Africas rerefining industry is not without its challenges. The cost of starting a new rerefinery is high, Nyiba told local media. The cost of electricity is also high, adding more operational expenses once up and running, since producing the hydrogen required for certain refining processes is energy intensive.

While up to 90 percent of the estimated 120 million liters of waste oil produced per year in South Africa is collected, only 10 percent is rerefined back into base oil, with the rest incinerated. This pushes rerefiners, which must run constantly to remain profitable, to import waste oil feedstock from neighboring countries, Nyiba said, adding further costs.

Some buyers are also fearful that African rerefined oils do not meet API specifications, echoing concerns that have at times been raised about rerefined base oils around the globe. Rami Al-Kinnany, the general manager of Egypts Hitech Oils and Greases, dismissed this. He told LubesnGreases that while he could not vouch for all rerefined products in Africa, he could speak of his own plant, which has been producing API Group I+ for eight years. He also pointed out that rerefiners in Tunisia and South Africa are producing oils that meet the APIs Group I standards.

Mduduzi Khnayile, national sales manager of South African producer FFS Refiners, also acknowledged that there is no formal regulation of rerefined oil standards on the continent, but said that the API is used as the guideline for his plants output.

It is necessary for you to produce to that standard and tell your customers to test it in their labs to confirm, Khnayile told LubesnGreases.

Khnayile also emphasized that it is important to maintain high standards because rerefiners are in competition with those producing virgin base oils at potentially lower costs, depending on the price of crude feedstock. Al-Kinnany pointed out that many waste oil rerefiners have gone out of business due to relatively low crude prices.

Given the variety of rerefining process options available and in use by Africas rerefiners – from wiped film evaporator technology by Hitech in Egypt and the use of surfactants by Brent in Uganda, to acid-clay extraction to produce Group I oils and hydrotreatment, which can produce rerefined oils that could meet or exceed the performance specifications of Group II virgin base oils – Al-Kinnany emphasized the optimum business model should be informed by profitability and scale.

If I am to start a business in a region where I can only procure 20 to 30 kilotons annually, then hydrotreatment will not be cost efficient and therefore will not be my first choice as an investor. I will have to consider other methods, he said. There are other options for rerefining methodologies … such as solvent extraction.

Although relatively inexpensive, solvent extraction to produce Group I oils creates an asphaltic sludge that contains most of the additives and other impurities, and a finishing treatment such as clay adsorption is usually used, which also creates waste. A significant amount of byproducts are generated that need to be disposed of.

Al-Kinnany noted that rerefining waste oil has other advantages, beyond environmental. Wide-scale locally rerefined base oil could mitigate Africas reliance on imports of virgin base stocks – which is high since base oil capacity across most of the continent is so low – as well as limit capital outflow from African economies. This would in turn result in cost effectiveness, more affordable products for consumers and reduction of dumping of substandard finished lubricants from the Gulf region into Africa.

There is no reason why the multinationals, or any local blender, would not buy a raw material that gives them good quality finished products and profits on top of that, Al-Kinnany said, adding rerefiners are at an advantage because having a local supplier is much more convenient for blenders than importing base oils, since Africas base oil refineries are very limited.

It is anticipated that Africas rerefined oil market will experience growth in the long term as many countries on the continent have yet to explore the potential of establishing a rerefining sector. For that to happen, they need to introduce well-coordinated waste oil collection networks and develop a rerefined oil markets that copy South Africas model, Nyiba cautioned. Rerefining could be the key to unlock many doors in Africa: sustainability, reducing reliance on imports and lowering the continents environmental impact.

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Africa    Region